Pamela Sumners

The Law of Conservation

The same amount of matter exists

before and after it is changed,

the chemistry teacher explains.


If matter cannot be destroyed

the eyelash fluttering from your

butterfly kiss can become a tear


can shutter itself in a nautilus

and be the “I love you” voice

in a conch echoing the whole ocean


can enclose the entire quantum 

roulette of our days, a View Master

of nandina bushes fringing our

shotgun shack in Montgomery,


a pitcher of sweet tea on hothouse

porches, me always thinking that

noticing changes in matter should be

the adjunct of natural breath, you sure


we’d have no need of poems if

this were true. I go to sleep one night

under the whole gleaming mass of stars

and rise a constellation of liver spots


my heart still beating like a Ramma

Jamma Yella Hamma, my ear pressed

to the conch, beating honey I am

I am I am


Home Schooling My Son

Cerberus starts to sound like cerebral

to whatever hounds my brain

as I hover in his cubby

poring the sanitized mythology lesson

only a superintendent could love.

At vocabulary time, I become

my own conundrum tickling

the tongue. What a fun word.

We should write it, not in cursive,

50 times on the chalkboard.


I’ll teach him not to burn his bridges

even though I myself never know 

quite when I’ve gone a bridge

too far. These sad, permeable

maternal membranes, these spongy

tensile things that string us

together and that can hang us

separately, jangle-clang just like

Pavlov’s bells in our closed skulls,

enraging the ganglia. Another day.


All work and no play

makes Jack a dull boy.


In “normal” times, I sack lunch it, 

childproof it, round-tip scissors it, 

pack the canvas chairs to watch 

kiddie sports he’s always lousy at. 

He’s just flossing the dull marginal gloss

of my toothless, ineffectual hopes for

him, so much stacked-up calculus.

This inamorata of inertia, these still.

still days—even in the normal times—

these still things with blunted edges

are the ones that can hurt you.


Pamela Sumners’ work has been published or recognized by about 50 journals or publishing houses in the US and abroad in 2018-21. She was a 2018 Pushcart nominee and was selected by Halcyone/Black Mountain Press for inclusion in 64 Best Poets of 2018 and 2019. Her first poetry collection, Ragpicking Ezekiel’s Bones, was published by UnCollected Press in December 2020. Her first chapbook, Finding Helen, a winner in the Rane Arroyo Series of Seven Kitchens Press, was released in 2021. Sumners is well known for her constitutional and civil rights legal work, including cases opposing Jay Sekulow, Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore, Supreme Court wannabe Bill Pryor, and an Alabama governor who argued that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to Alabama. She formerly worked as an ACLU volunteer lawyer, the director of the LGBT Project at the ACLU of Illinois, and the executive director of a women’s rights organization. A native Alabamian, she now lives in St. Louis with her wife, trans son, and rescue dogs. Pamela’s publications and honors can be found at her author page, www.pamelalsumners.com.